My labors

When I pushed out both my babies, it felt right that it took 3ish hours and wrung me out till there was nothing left, not a drop. I slumped into a sweaty exhausted heap in between each push, eyes rolling back, mouth slack, muscles spent.

I have no judgements of women who chose early pain management in labor but it's not what I wanted. I wanted a drug-free, vaginal delivery. I knew there would be screaming, blood, inhuman levels of pain and exertion.

I wanted that. I wanted to feel it all. I wanted to labor.

I wanted to start my babies lives without drugs in their system. I wanted to feel connected to women throughout the centuries who have done this incredible, goddess-like thing. But also, there was a tiny part of me that wanted to push through something like punishment. To emerge from a difficult trial victorious. To prove to myself that I could do it. If I could handle it, I could handle anything.

If I could do it, I deserved to be a mother.

I've thought often that labor and delivery was my version of doing a marathon. A trial of will, spirit and flesh. Due to injuries to my feet and knees from dancing (not to mention a pesky, passionate hatred of running), I could never do a marathon. Never.

But I could labor.

I do feel like I proved something to myself, especially with E's delivery. I felt triumphant and the glow of her birth lasted for a long, long time.

The daily labor of being a mother is something else entirely. It can be grinding, exhausting, thankless. There is no cataclysmic moment at the end where flesh opens, people cheer and you clutch a brand new person to your breast. There is just another day of more labor. Another night of unknown amounts of sleep. There is no end.

(*Here's where you all start composing your kind, concerned comments - have you considered psychotherapy? how about anti-depressants? - in your head*)

I find the suffering from lack of sleep that is currently my labor to be one of the more difficult in motherhood. To lay my head down at night (and again, repeatedly, in the wee hours of the morning) and have NO IDEA how long I will be able to sleep is so unsettling, so miserable, it defies my usual simple solutions for sanity and mental health (Get more exercise! Try a little deep breathing! Have a piece of dark chocolate!)

After an impressive start with long stretches of uninterrupted sleep as an infant, E's sleep has been a mess for .... a month? Three?

(I broke her, didn't I?)

About twice a week, E sleeps for 11 hours without a peep. Hurrah! She is cured! Whatever I did today I will make myself insane by trying to completely replicate in its entirety tomorrow!

About twice a week, E wakes once or twice and falls back asleep with a little paci help or maybe one rocking session. Fine. Just. Fine.

About twice a week, E wakes every 1.5 - 2 hours and insists on being held and nursed indefinitely. O. M. G. I WILL NOT SURVIVE THIS. On these nights, I emerge not victorious, not triumphant, but spent, exhausted, confused. I cannot find this trial of body and mind and spirit to be a great test of my will, a proof of my power as a woman. I find it only crushing, draining, dispiriting.

(Any other synonyms left in that thesaurus?)


It helps just a little that I am not alone. That I am once again connected to the centuries of women, of mothers, who've come before me.

And those -you -who walk beside me.


Fran said...

I am indeed walking beside you!! I have had all three of my children drug-free (but I only successfully pushed out the last one--my boys were both face up and required forceps) and my 2 year old daughter STILL wakes up at least once a night most of the time. Last night she woke up just before 2 and although I tried various times to get her back down it was 3:45 before I succeeded!! And it was 4:00 when she wandered into our room and I snuggled her up next to me in bed where she is still sleeping. The delivery is the easy part of being a mother...how scary is that?!

Hillary said...

that is EXACTLY how I feel about labor and delivery. The husband ran a marathon right before The Boy was born, and I really believe the training for and recovery from both things was similar. I'm also with you on lack of sleep. You'll get no kind, concerned comment from me about anti-depressants -- just sympathy. There's a reason they use lack of sleep as torture.

desperate housewife said...

YES to what Hillary said! Sleep deprivation is a kind of TORTURE used throughout the world in dank prisons, yet mothers are expected to endure it indefinitely and still function in normal life! I found the first year of Eli's life to be INFINITELY more grueling than the few hours of severe pain prior to his birth. At least then I knew a) it has to end SOMETIME- I mean, they won't let me DIE of this, and b) there is going to be a BABY at the end, and then it will be OVER, and then I will be the HERO.
No on lavishes praise and pain meds on you for successfully getting up all night with a needy baby.
But here, here's something, though it ain't a medal or a Vicodin: you ARE a hero. There IS an end to it, eventually. And at the end is a real PERSON, one that you successfully carried and delivered and nursed nursed NURSED and endured the toddler years and someday you will probably help her survive her children's infancies, too. And it will be then that she realizes what a hero you were!

Marie Green said...

I think older babies waking is even HARDER than the newborn routine. I'm not sure why that is... Marin has some wicked ear infections from about 10 months until 16 months (when she finally go tubes), and it was horrible. HORRIBLE.

Does it help to remind you that I *am* sleeping all night now? That YOU TOO will get sleep again, someday? Sometimes, realizing that helped me... it's seems like it will go on for ETERNITY when you are in it. But it doesn't!

Until there is more sleep in the card for you, I'll send warm, relaxing vibes for little E!

(Also, loved the comparison of labor during childbirth and labor during motherhood.)

Good Enough Mom said...

oh, yeah...we're here with you sister! I am often amazed that the human species has survived this long...How did we do it?

Amie said...

I am walking with you on the sleep part! And my girl is 14 months old. It is crushing. In talking to others I have come to realize that it has nothing to do with me. It is not what I am doing wrong. Some kids are great sleepers. Some are not. Some have more trouble with teething than others. Some have a need for connection in the wee hours of the night. Ugh. I do know one day she will sleep on her own in her own room ALL NIGHT LONG. It is kind of a mantra in my head. So is "this too shall pass".

Kathi McCracken Dente said...

Oh honey! I feel your pain. Hang in there. The nights when they are up every 2 hours just suck. It is why we started sleep training. Letting them cry is no fun but thankfully T has taken to it pretty well. But even with that she is still up twice a night (and really not napping these days). I haven't had the heart to push it any further yet. I am usually on my iphone while nursing at 3am, text me if you ever need a late night (or daytime) pep talk!

Existential Waitress said...

I don't think you need psychotherapy or anit-depressants - just a good night's sleep. This part IS really, really hard. I thought that this phase of motherhood would NEVER end, but it did. It IS exhausting, draining, and DEPLETING as yous said. Hang in there though - you're a great mom and you're doing an awesome job.

Erin said...

I feel you.

I try to stick with the mantra "this too shall pass." It true for the good and the bad, yet it's always so hard for me to remember that it is true at all.

Ali said...

I know that it's not for everyone but I have coslept with all four of my kids and I would have been a zombie without it. I mean, it has it's flaws. Now that the youngest is in her own bed it is bliss to be able to go to bed with just my husband but when she was breastfeeding all night, the fact that I could just sleep through the incessant feeding was all that made it survivable (ok,she still has those nights sometimes if I'm honest and then we cosleep!).

Cortney said...

Wow, what a lovely post. I can so relate to every word you said. I'm about to embark on the labor part for the second time, and having had a kid who didn't sleep longer than 5 hrs at a time until she was 3, I know for sure that natural childbirth is the easy part. I'm excited about going thru the trail of labor and birth again and terrified about potential years of sleep deprivation again. It really is amazing what we mothers endure.

Aunt Bobbie said...

Wow. Reading your wrenching words makes me recall my days (er, nights) as a young mom waking up every half hour to a crying baby. It is so true that labor is nothing next to no sleep for who knows how long.
Corny to say, but your love will get you through - it shows in E's and Z's eyes. Your humor & sensitivity, your love....

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